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Eat. Drink. Educate. Students are the heart and soul of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival®
This group of FIU student leaders and staff work nearly all year on SOBEWFF®

Eat. Drink. Educate. Students are the heart and soul of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival®

February 23, 2023 at 1:55pm

Every business owner, department manager, and executive director had to start somewhere. And those who end up leading recognize that every experience can help them ascend to their ultimate goal.

Well, meet the students of the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. Aspiring to the highest echelons of the industry – expect to see them running or owning hotel chains, restaurant groups and more in the coming years – they have been the boots on the ground – make that the sneakers and clogs on the kitchen floor – in preparation for South Florida’s biggest gastronomic extravaganza.

“Onion tears, tiny thyme stems plucked, a case of zested lemons and nearly 50 pastramis weighing 20 pounds each later, we’re ready to go,” said Natalie Garcia, or Chef Nat as her fellow students at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management like to call her. The master’s degree student is just one of the student leaders heading teams of hundreds of student volunteers who are prepping for the 22nd annual edition of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival®, the largest event of its kind in the country. They’ve been in the kitchen all week in anticipation of the four-day run of 100-plus events that kicks off tonight and goes through Sunday.

More than 1,300 students from all majors across FIU volunteer. They work alongside a professional management team, dozens of event planners and 450+ chefs and wine and spirits producers. They cover more than 4,400 shifts while earning scholarships and hands-on experience that will serve them as they climb the ladder within their fields.

For the first time, participants in the FIU Embrace | Center for Advancing Inclusive Communities will also have a chance to gain some experience. FIU Embrace’s mission is to empower persons with disabilities to live at their fullest potential through innovative and research-based programming, community engagement and professional skills development. Some 30 will volunteer across 20+ Festival events and earn a micro-credential indicating that they have developed certain skills.

A standout event for those participants is the FIU Embrace Dinner, which will see the young people work alongside James Beard Award-winning chef and TV personality Andrew Zimmern. Net proceeds from the event will fund the development of an educational program that supports FIU Embrace participants wishing to secure hospitality jobs,

Evelyn Marin, an FIU Embrace participant, expressed her excitement at getting the chance to volunteer at that specific event. “I feel good that I was selected,” she said. “I am very happy.” An elegant affair, the multi-course dinner was crafted by Zimmern and Richard Sandoval, the executive chef of the restaurant Toro Toro at the InterContinental Miami, where the event will be held, and paired with internationally acclaimed Mollydooker Wines.

“The dinner will focus on the importance of post-secondary education and employment opportunities among individuals impacted by a developmental disability as well as the value that this group offers to the hospitality industry in the form of a committed, employable and qualified workforce,” said Nicole Attong, executive director at the FIU Embrace Center. “The FIU Embrace Education and Employment programs are a reflection of the core work of the university. We graduate skilled individuals who are able to live their most fulfilled lives in the community.” 

Chaplin School Dean Michael Cheng agreed on the value of extending opportunities to everyone who can contribute. “The hospitality industry is one of the largest in the world and extremely inclusive."